Can you believe we are only a few days away from the 2021 NFL Draft? I honestly look forward to the draft just as much as I do for the Super Bowl, maybe even more so if the Steelers aren’t participating.
What a better way to close out the draft season than putting out my very first mock draft since joining the Steelers Depot staff back in August of 2020? I’m pumped and hope you enjoy reading as much as I did learning about all of these prospects over the course of the off-season. All the time going through film for my own draft profiles to reading the rest of the profiles compiled by our great team here was time well spent.
I’m sure there will be picks you enjoy and picks you abhor so feel free to take your pitchforks right to the comment section and let me know what you think.
Round One (24th Overall): Najee Harris / RB Alabama – 6’1”, 232 lbs.
It gets old seeing the same name pop up again and again for Steelers’ mock drafts, but there’s far too many boxes checked for Najee Harris going to them at 24. I wanted so badly to throw a curveball here, but I didn’t want to just for the sake of doing so.
With President Art Rooney calling for the Steelers to fix the run game, what better way to start than taking the best running back in the class (and I don’t really think it’s that close).
I’m normally against taking first-round running backs, especially in the case where the offensive line may need some work. However, in Harris’ case the reason for my exception is his ability to create outside of structure. On tape he consistently gets five or six yards when there only may be two yards there to get. In the Steelers case, that’s the only type of back I’d entertain this early.
Aside from that, he’s walking into one of the worst running back rooms in the entire NFL. He’d be the starter and likely bellcow of this Pittsburgh offense as it tries to get back to its physical, smashmouth bloodlines. One bonus that should not be overlooked is the ability to get Harris for the four years plus the fifth-year option on his rookie contract compared to if you waited until later in the draft. Five years of solid running back play is a successful outcome in this case.
Others considered: LB – Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, CB Asante Samuel Jr., LB – Zaven Collins
Round Two (55th Overall): Landon Dickerson / iOL Alabama – 6”6”, 326 lbs.
Analysis: I can already hear the comments about how Dickerson won’t be there at 55. However, the data is there that it’s entirely possible. The first being simply how deep the center class is compared to past drafts. I feel most teams won’t feel the need to jump and get a center as there will be better value further down the draft board.
Since Maurkice Pouncey was the Steelers first round pick in 2010, only seven other centers have been drafted in the first round. Add that to the fact Dickerson is reportedly being taken off team’s boards until Day 3 due to medicals, I think this possibility is much more plausible than many think. It feels like a similar situation to Stephon Tuitt falling to Pittsburgh at 46 in 2014 after he had a foot fracture his junior year before declaring for the draft.
Like Tuitt, Dickerson would likely be a top 20 player in this class if you could take injuries out of the picture. However, this is reality and the injuries certainly do matter. To me, if you can get a first-round caliber player at 55, especially one that can be a starter from day one, you jump at that opportunity.
Much has been said about Dickerson’s demeanor and style of play that will make the Steelers line a more physical one as soon as he straps on his pads for the first time. He feels like a guy that can step in and be that leader of an offensive line for years to come, filling the massive shoes that Pouncey left to fill on the field and in the locker room.
Others considered: LB – Baron Browning, TE – Pat Freiermuth, C – Quinn Meinerz
Round Three (87th Overall): Elijah Molden / CB Washington – 5”9”, 192 lbs.
Analysis: In my opinion the Steelers have three clear spots they need to draft starters for in this draft. I hit two of the three in the first two rounds, so let’s just clear up that third spot. During the Steelers pre-draft press conference general manager, Kevin Colbert, mentioned they consider a team having 24 starters, including the slot receiver and slot corner as starters.
I align with that same train of thought when you think about how important cornerback, Mike Hilton, was to this Steelers defense the last four years. With the thought that Cam Sutton will be moving outside, that leaves the slot cornerback slot wide open for this team. Justin Layne is not an inside guy and James Pierre doesn’t have nearly enough tape for me to be comfortable with him at that spot.
Enter Washington’s Elijah Molden. I believe he fits the Hilton mold better than any other defensive back in this class. It takes a special type of player to play with a lack of regard for your body. Molden uses that loose screw in his head to be an elite run defender and nickel blitzer even with his small stature.
Thanks to some poor measurables at his pro-day I have the Steelers gratefully grabbing Molden in the third. If you have your ‘Tyler Wise List of Steelers Needs’ list handy, you can cross off the top three spots after the first three rounds.
Others considered: TE – Tommy Tremble, DB – Kary Vincent, LB – Cam McGrone
Round Four (128th Overall): Robert Hainsey / OL Notre Dame – 6’4”, 306 lbs.
Analysis: The later you get in the draft the more you have to lean on the Steelers following their trends of taking upperclassmen, especially ones that attended the Senior Bowl. On top of Robert Hainsey being at the Senior Bowl where he met with Kevin Colbert, Colbert, Tomlin, and offensive line coach, Adrian Klemm, were also at his pro day. So they’re extremely familiar with the Notre Dame offensive lineman at this point.
He’s a Pittsburgh kid born and bred. He grew up in Monroeville, PA before transferring to IMG Academy in Florida to play football in high school.
The biggest benefactor with him is how versatile he is. He can truly be a guy, similar to Kelvin Beachum, that can play all 5 positions of the Steelers offensive line. That type of versatility on your roster is priceless.
The knack on him is he’s not super athletic so that may limit his ceiling in the NFL, but consistency is probably the most accurate word to describe his game. A guy like Hainsey could be your insurance plan if you end having Dickerson fall to you, while also adding depth to all other spots on the line at the same time.
Others considered: LB – Dylan Moses, EDGE – Elerson Smith, DL – Jaylen Twyman
Round Four (140th Overall, Comp Pick): Patrick Jones / EDGE Pittsburgh – 6’4”, 261 lbs.
Analysis: The Steelers prepared well predicting that 2020 would be Bud Dupree’s last season in the black and gold by hitting on their third round draft pick, Alex Highsmith. While Highsmith likely steps up into the starting role opposite of TJ Watt, the depth at outside linebacker is scary.
I’m not comfortable at all with Cassius Marsh as my No. 3 OLB on this team. Pittsburgh’s Patrick Jones helps soothe those worries a tad. In his last two seasons at Pitt, he was highly productive reeling in 17.5 sacks and 24.0 tackles for loss.
Jones’ blazing fast step helped him add two more sacks during the Senior Bowl. That’s how he’s going to win early-on, his speed and athleticism. He feels like he’s still scratching the surface as he still needs to add some power to his game especially in the run game. The outlook of the OLB depth is looking much prettier after this pick.
Others considered: EDGE – Jonathan Cooper, LB – Derrick Barnes, S – Damar Hamlin
Round Six (216th Overall): Tre McKitty / TE Georgia – 6’4”, 243 lbs.
Analysis: While a blocking tight end may make more sense here, McKitty has a unique skill set that could excel in Matt Canada’s offense. He has serious YAC ability making him a threat over the middle, in the screen game, and possibly even shovel passes or handoffs. While he leaves something to be desired in the blocking department, he shows the ‘want to’ which is half the battle.
With Eric Ebron’s contract running out in 2021, the Steelers are looking for a long-term replacement. While I think his ideal situation would be a TE3 his rookie year with a veteran being signed after the draft to be the team’s number two (Jesse James *wink wink*), McKitty has the potential to develop into a starting TE in today’s NFL. The other tight ends considered in this spot may be “safer,” but with me not having to answer to Art Rooney Jr. at the end of the day, sign me up for the higher-risk, high-reward option.
Others considered: S – Paris Ford, TE – Miller Forristall, TE – Luke Farrell
Round Seven (245th Overall): Justin Hilliard / LB Ohio State – 6’0”, 229 lbs.
Analysis: I would have loved to be able to grab more of a coverage linebacker earlier in this draft to pair next to Devin Bush, but I decided to go with more pressing needs earlier on. This late you’re going to be lucky to find someone that makes it on your opening day 53 much less a three-down linebacker.
The 23-year old, Justin Hilliard spent six years in the Ohio State program. While he’s played in 36 career games, there’s not a ton of tape to go with it. He did play significant snaps in the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season for the Buckeyes and put some nice tape behind it with 33 tackles, 5.0 tackles for loss, and a pick. He played his best ball down the stretch in the Big Ten Championship against Northwestern, the semi-finals against Clemson, and finally the National Championship against Alabama.
Another Senior Bowl participant who really shined during his week in Mobile, AL. He looks much more athletic on the field than he tested at his pro day. However, his ideal role is likely as a 2-down run defender. Even though he’s a bit undersized, he’s a thumper and a sure tackler at that. To me he’s someone that can likely be stashed on the practice squad for a year before taking over the Vince Williams role in 2022.
Others considered: LB – Buddy Johnson, LB – Garrett Wallow, P – Drue Chrisman
Round Seven (254th Overall): Trevon Grimes / WR Florida – 6’4”, 220 lbs.
Analysis: The Steelers have taken a receiver in the draft all but one year since Ben Roethlisberger has been drafted (2011). I’m not going to be the one who predicts to buck that trend as they continue to reload at that position year after year. With how deep the receiver group is this year I believe, even this late in the draft, there will be numerous solid options to choose from.
Trevon Grimes is another prospect that the Steelers have had ties to in the pre-draft process. He’s a big-bodied receiver standing at 6’4” 220 lbs. He’s personally said he models his game after Steelers 2020 second-round draft pick, Chase Claypool, and it’s easy to see how.
While he may not be as explosive as Claypool, he plays above the rim on many of his catches. He also can use his big body to create extra yards after the catch as it’s not easy for just one cornerback to bring him down.
With James Washington likely leaving after the 2021 season, it would be a good time to start grooming the next Z-receiver and Grimes certainly fits that mold. With his added experience running down punts and kicks he’d be a perfect receiver for the back-end of the roster, hopefully relieving the budding star of Claypool of his special teams duties.
Others considered: WR – Tamorrion Terry, WR – Austin Watkins, WR – Marquez Stevenson